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Chad Pregracke Interview | Uncommon Convos | Episode 024

Chad Pregracke


Home » Blog » Chad Pregracke Interview | Uncommon Convos | Episode 024
Chad Pregracke


In this episode of Uncommon Convos, Dennis talks with one of the hardest working men in America, Chad Pregracke.  Chad is founder of Living Lands and Waters.  Dennis talks to Chad about how he started on this mission of cleaning the rivers and how things have changed over the years.  They also talk about several other projects Chad has going on like, The Bison Bridge Project, Million Trees Project and Adopt A River Mile to name a few.  As a kid he started to notice all the garbage above and below the water.  This led him to do something about it.  He made many efforts to contact government agencies to tell them about the problem but could not get anyone to clean things up.  So he decided to make the change and founded Living Lands & Waters in 1998.  He now has a full crew and fleet of equipment to aid in the clean up rivers and bodies of water all across the United States.

Episode Video

Full Episode Transcript

Dennis (00:01)
Learn how one person with a passion and a vision can make a positive impact on our environment and thus, millions of people. Stay tuned for our discussion with Chad Pregracke, our next guest on Uncommon Convos. Welcome to Uncommon Convos. I’m your host, Dennis VanDerGinst, and before I introduce our guest today, I want to encourage you all to subscribe, rate and review. Uncommon Convos on your favorite podcast platform. It’s completely painless, quick, easy, and free. And when you subscribe, you’ll automatically be alerted when new episodes are available. Also, don’t forget, you can learn more about Uncommon Convos. Leave comments, suggestions, and watch the video version of these episodes simply by visiting uncommonconvos.com. Lastly, I want to thank our sponsor VanDerGinst Law. If you’re injured on the job or due to the wrongdoing of another, VanDerGinst Law would be honored to help. Simply go to vlaw.com for more information. Now, it’s my pleasure to introduce today’s wonderful guest, Chad Pregracke. I could fill this entire segment just singing the praises of this guy and reciting the honors and awards that he’s earned for his unyielding work and advocacy for conservation efforts. But since you all want to hear from Chad directly, I’m going to just hit some of the highlights.

Dennis (01:29)
Chad spent most of his time on, in or around the Mississippi and Illinois rivers while growing up near East Moline, Illinois. And like many of us, he didn’t like what he was seeing below or above the river. But unlike most of us, he decided to do something about it. At the ripe old age of 17, he began his advocacy efforts by making calls to government agencies, encouraging action, but none was taken. So in 1997, Chad decided that if no one else was going to clean the river, he would. And indeed, he did. That year, he single handedly removed 45,000 lbs of trash from the Mississippi, which garnered him national media attention and financial backing. So the next year, at the age of 23, Chad founded Living Lands and Waters, a 501 C3 environmental organization, which has grown to be the only industrial strength river cleanup organization in the world. Their mission is to aid in the protection, preservation, and restoration of the natural environment of our nature’s major rivers and their watersheds, to expand awareness of environmental issues and responsibility encompassing our rivers, and to create a desire and opportunity for citizens to take an active role in helping to make cleaner river environments.

Dennis (02:56)
Thus far, they have removed nearly 13 million lbs of trash from American rivers. They’ve enlisted over 120,000 volunteers in their 25 years of existence. They’ve educated over 11,000 students and planted nearly 2 million trees. Their full-time crew spends up to nine months a year living and traveling on their barge, hosting river cleanups, watershed, conservation initiatives, workshops, tree plantings, and other key conservation efforts. As a result of these efforts, Chad has received countless honors, including the Jefferson Award for Public Service, which is like America’s version of the Nobel Prize. He accepted that at the US. Supreme Court in D. C. In 2013, he was CNN’s Hero of the Year. Illinois also honored him that year, proclaiming Chad Pregracke Day. In 2010, he was named Mitchum’s Hardest Working Person in America, an honor well deserved. And the list goes on and on. He’s also the author of From The Bottom Up: One Man’s Crusade to Clean America’s Rivers. And one of his other passions is the Bison Bridge Project, which we’re definitely going to talk about as well. So Chad, that was a mouthful. Thank you so much for joining us. I’m so happy that you’re here with us today. How are you doing?

Chad (04:23)
I’m doing good, man. Thanks a lot. I appreciate the honor to be on, and it’s good stuff.

Dennis (04:32)
Well, I know you speak a lot. I know you get interviewed a lot, and you probably get asked the same questions over and over again and get tired of it. So I’m going to do, I’ll probably hit some of the same old questions, too. But one of the things I want to give you an opportunity to do right at the onset here is, what are the questions that you aren’t asked or aren’t asked enough that you wish people would ask you about? You want people to know about issues or things that you think people would like to know that you don’t typically get to talk about.

Chad (05:05)
Well, I guess it goes back to the people I live and work with on the barge and the crew I currently live with and past crew members. And just a lot of people don’t ask me too much about them. The awards say my name on them and I’m on here doing the podcast. But it’s really, I have a wonderful team of people that I work with. I think there are 12 or 13 of us that everybody works really hard. So if nothing else, just saying, giving props to them because I sort of suck up a lot of the attention. But it’s really a team effort. And you mentioned I think it’s a little over 120,000 volunteers in conjunction with those crew members. But the crew puts a lot of the stuff together and some of them worked here almost 20 years now, so we have some extremely dedicated folks. So not too many people ask too much about them. But yeah, they’re amazing people.

Dennis (06:09)
Good. Well, and I’m sure that their accolades are well deserved as well. And I will ask you a little bit more about them. In fact, I had an outline here intending to do so, so I’m glad you brought that up. You started down this path awfully young. Did you always know that this was the type of work you wanted to do? Or as a kid, did you ever want to do anything else?

Chad (06:37)
I don’t remember. I liked working on the river. I was a shell diver, diving for muscle shells when I was a teenager and selling those to make money to go to college and what sells in college, to stay in college. So I really like that. I did some commercial fishing and worked on barges, so I really enjoyed working on the river. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, but once I started doing this, I really like people, so I got to work with a lot of different cool people, and I got to do something good not just for the river, but also the community. And I feel like since the Mississippi River, it’s doing something good for the country, and it was just a combo of that, and it was very well received. And I was getting to work with some companies, too, that were sponsoring, so it was good. And once I did that, then I knew that this is what I wanted to do. So that’s how it started. But no, I don’t remember ever thinking I knew what I wanted to do when I got older. It’s a big world. It’s a lot of choices and opportunities.

Dennis (07:42)
Well, now, as you’ve been doing this for over 25 years, right? Is there ever times? I mean, that’s got to be pretty grueling, all the garbage and everything that you’re doing. Do you ever stop and think, man, I need a career change, or is it just such a passion that it never even occurs to you?

Chad (08:06)
It’s a huge passion, but it’s also very rewarding. I like working, too. Work is fun to me, and not all the time, but nothing is supposed to be great all the time, certainly, but I just enjoy what I do. So I don’t really think about switching up careers or anything. I just think about how I can do more with the time I have. And that’s pretty much what preoccupies me, is you start out by saying one person can make a difference. Sure, we all do as individuals, but collectively you can get large groups of people together for common causes and like, cleanups or tree plantings or all sorts of different causes, and that’s really what makes things work and makes change happen and sustains the change. So just being a small part of that kind of keeps me motivated.

Dennis (09:00)
That’s a great point. As I mentioned in the intro, you started your advocacy at age 17 when you were trying to reach out to the organizations and alert them to the problems that you were seeing with the river, and nobody did anything. Do you think that was because they weren’t taking you seriously because of your age or they just didn’t have the manpower or any idea why they were so reluctant to embrace what you were advocating at that moment?

Chad (09:36)
It probably was everything, lack of experience, age, being younger, whatever it was. That might have been a problem at the time, but when I look back, that was the best thing I had going for me because I didn’t have any experience for people telling me no, and if they did, I was just like, whatever, eventually somebody’s going to care about this. So there was a lot of people told me no at first, but it could have been on my part too, and how you present something and I just maybe didn’t know how to do it the best. So it’s not all on those folks or they just weren’t interested. There’s a lot of different things, especially in the rules, that I was trying to get sponsorship, so a lot of stuff thrown at them. So no problem on their end. I think being young probably added to it too. But I think that again was one of the better things I had going for me, because people want to see young people succeed and I think that’s you look at your teachers and all that, so there might have been a problem at the time, so I thought, but I think it actually added to everything in the end.

Dennis (10:46)
Sure. It seems as if it had been me or someone at this stage in life that was reaching out. That maybe whether you had a response from the government or not, you certainly wouldn’t have had as much national attention. I would imagine, when you just said, “All right. I’m going to do it myself,” then all of a sudden you get the sponsorship attention. You get the national media exposure. So maybe it did all work out the way it was intended.

Chad (11:22)
I didn’t have a grand plan, so it’s not like everything is planned out. A lot of things just happen and I think it just goes back, if you’re setting out to do good work no matter what it is, a lot of times good things will happen. Not all the time, but certainly in my case. I’ve had a lot of mentors, a lot of great help, and a lot of luck too. Things happen to fall into play, timing is good, all that. Honestly, at the end of the day, hard work takes this thing forward. Hard work is what gets junk out of the river, getting trees planted. And hard work is in the form of like your passion, your drive, your focus, your energy, and then a great team of people with the same. So hard work is really the key to pretty much anything.

Dennis (12:12)
Sure. And to that point, hard work gets you there. It may not be overnight, but eventually you’ve evolved to the point where you are now. At some point after you got that media attention, you started getting some sponsorship support. Did you think to yourself, you saw that there was some momentum building. Was there something that triggered you to think, wow, this really has taken on a life of its own? And now this vision that you had, it’s more of a movement.

Chad (12:49)
I mean, I just sort of take one thing at a time or one town at a time. But it worked in my hometown of the Quad Cities, and I’m pretty proud to be living here. And I thought, well, if this worked here, then it’ll certainly work in all the river towns up and down the river. So that was my sense on that. Just one piece of garbage at time, one town at a time and one stretch of the river. So I wasn’t overwhelmed or anything at the time. And everything builds up momentum. So it’s kind of like now it’s just much bigger. We’ve done like 1400 river clean ups around the country and work in New York City, DC, Philadelphia, Kansas City. We worked all the way down to New Orleans, Minneapolis, but it’s in that same thing. If it works here, why wouldn’t it work there? And if there’s a need, then it’s not like people complain about you coming and picking up garbage. Typically. I say typically because some places they do, actually. But anyway.

Dennis (13:52)
That’s funny. You had mentioned the crew, and I want to talk about the crew. Where did your crew come from initially? Were they friends, local friends? Or were they conservationists or how did that crew evolve? You mentioned some have been there for like 20 years. How have they come to be part of everything?

Chad (14:17)
I would say, yeah, the first people is just people I knew that I was friends with. And then, now it’s people from all over the country and things like that that come and work and are just good people. And I just try to work with them a while and then see what’s their talents, what do they like and what are they good at and try to build upon that. But, yeah, they’re from all over and really everybody’s kind of environmental, but more so, I think everybody is just kind of like in a category of a hard-working American. We have mechanics and then we have planners, and we have all these different people. And I think everybody’s just into the hard work. It’s a different lifestyle for sure when you’re living together on a barge and traveling town to town, city to city. So some people just got tired of the same or want to do something different or wanted to make a difference. I think most of them are. That’s why they’re here. And it’s kind of an exciting team to be part of and a great mission.

Dennis (15:25)
For sure. It kind of reminds me, I remember reading something, I think it was on your website, that the Discovery Channel did a show on Living Lands and Waters, right? Okay. Has anyone ever approached you about doing like, a reality series? Because I’ve got to imagine that living on the river, like you mentioned, meeting new volunteers, going all over the country to do the cleanups, and this good, hard work would make for some interesting stories.

Chad (15:56)
I would say. Yeah, like countless. I mean, I can’t even tell you how many. It seems like it’s like one a month or maybe more, sometimes. Like three in a week, sometimes, somebody wanting to do something. But that’s not bad. But it’s not like it’s reality and I don’t want to make more drama. We’re pretty good on our own, I mean, doing what we’re doing and all that. I had thought about it, but whatever.

Dennis (16:40)
Yeah, well, I think, because I noticed that Antique Archeology is one of the sponsors on the Bison Bridge project. So I assume you know Mike and Robbie and Frank, obviously they’ll tell you that it’s not all what it seems to be on the TV. And a lot of that is scripted.

Chad (17:06)
The difference is, too, they have an endless supply of really good content, really good characters, and they don’t need to be scripted and all that. Since we wouldn’t, there would be more of that. But it is what it is. And I feel like that show will and can go on for as long as they want it to go on because I don’t care when you turn it on, what episode. It’s interesting and definitely fun to watch.

Dennis (17:40)
I love that. I love the guys. I love Pawn Stars too. That seems to be getting a bit more and more scripted. But I love seeing little chochkies that they always come across. That’s something I want to talk to you about as well. I read on the website somewhere some of the stuff that you guys have recovered from the rivers. I mean, some crazy crap. What would you say is like the craziest stuff that you can recall pulling out of the river?

Chad (18:18)
We pulled out, you name it. All sorts of like a Civil War artillery shell that was still live. And then the guy took it home to figure out what it was and told us. We’re like, oh, we text him like three days later. And then he sends back a text like, well, bomb squad found out and came to my apartment complex and evacuated it and took it away and all this.

Dennis (18:46)
Oh, man.

Chad (18:47)
I have one of the world’s largest message in a bottle collections. That goes all over. It goes on tour, I think it just got back from Virginia and it’s heading to Florida. It’s going somewhere. But it tells a lot of different stories. And then it kind of tells how far it came or where we think it came from because people have their addresses on it or will tell you. But that’s pretty cool. You just never know what you’re going to find out there. There’s just so much different things. But it keeps the job really interesting for everybody that works out there and the volunteers as well.

Dennis (19:24)
Yeah, I saw 104 messages in a bottle. I’ve probably done that as a kid. I probably did something like that. And I hate to say it, because it’s still garbage, you’re throwing into the river. Is it preserved, the actual message? Are you able to retrieve it and read it and get some sense of how old it is and what they’re saying in there?

Chad (19:52)
Yeah, sometimes it’s just so sun faded, you can’t tell. But most of them you can. Maybe 25, 30 years old would be the oldest, but it’s where it came from, who it was. And sometimes I’ve been able to contact them and they remember doing it, or they forgot. Now they remember. It’s pretty cool. But truthfully, there are a lot of them that aren’t meant to ever be read. I mean, these are pretty heavy. They meant to write into the universe about big problems in their life and contemplating bigger things and are anonymous and all that. So some of them, you just keep passing. You just let them go. There are some really strange, strange ones as well. But yeah, neat stuff.

Dennis (20:39)
Yeah. I think when I would have done it as a kid, it was probably that kind of out into the universe. God, please bring me a GI. Joe. I saw that some of the statistics I wanted to read off to the audience here. Some of the other things, this just kills me. 942 refrigerators, 452 televisions, 197 stoves, 176 washing machines. Basically, you could have your own used appliance center. I know this stuff isn’t likely to be operational, but it’s hard to believe people are tossing that kind of stuff in the river. Bowling balls, for instance. I think they were like, I don’t know, 100 bowling balls. Who’s launching bowling balls?

Chad (21:32)
I don’t know. Bowling balls is mysterious because they’re all over and they float. Most of them float. You wouldn’t think so. But they do. They’re filled with foam and they float. You’ll see them, like flood coming down, like bobbing down the river and all that. A lot of motorcycle helmets. It’s all sorts of different things you find, but again, it’s pretty crazy. But refrigerators and yes, I mean, I have barge loads of that, literally millions of pounds of that. But the thing is, where we first started here, and I’d say from Minneapolis to St. Louis, it’s just totally changed. As far as for the better, for garbage. It’s not just me noticing it, but it’s the towboat captains that drive the barges. It’s the bass fishermen, the commercial fishermen, the bird watchers, the canoeists, all walks of life, just noticing what a difference it is. And I’m a small part of that change. I’ve had a lot of volunteers, and there’s just a lot more attention on riverfronts and all of that, now. People are treating it as a treasure, not like a place to dump trash. Change is kind of like our barge, you fire it up and it’s very heavy and very slow to get going, but once it gets going, it’s hard to stop. That’s moving the change along.

Dennis (22:57)
Yeah. I’m glad you mentioned the barge, too, because you live on the barge at least many months of the year, the crew does. And before you had the barge, if I remember correctly, you had a houseboat that you did retrieve from the bottom of the river. Is that right?

Chad (23:15)
Yeah, from the bottom of the Illinois River. A marina brought it up and it sunk and then we fixed it up. Before that I had my brother’s, but it sank and then had to pull that up and I’ve had a lot of problems with a lot of boats, but it is what it is. But yeah, I lived on a houseboat for quite a while. It was progression of the organization and all that, that kind of got us to where we’re at now. It’s a much bigger, different operation. It’s the only one like it in the world. We’ve got excavators, cranes and tow boats and kind of stuff like a DJ boat just to make our events fun. It’s pretty good.

Dennis (24:02)
So when you’re not doing the actual hard work, that obviously comes with the river cleanups and things of that nature and you’re just kicking back at the end of the day, is it more like you’re camping out, playing some music, having some beers, just kicking back? Or is it everyone’s just dead tired and you just hit the hay and get ready for the next day?

Chad (24:29)
It depends on the day. There’s a lot of travel in what we do, so it’s really just kind of people just doing whatever. Everybody pretty much has their own room in the barge, so people hang in their rooms, but the kitchen is where people kind of congregate, so somebody’s usually cooking something. Sometimes people eat on their own or what have you. Some people run in town for errands, so it’s just kind of whatever the day is, and whether it’s a Friday or Saturday or a Monday, Tuesday, whatever, it just kind of depends. And the towns we’re in too sometimes the barge is just parked in the middle of nowhere. And also the time of year, you tend to stay inside when it’s cold more, and when it’s cold on the roof, it’s pretty cold. So, yeah.

Dennis (25:17)
From when until when. The website said, and I’ve been referring to like nine months of the year that you’re on the barge pretty much.

Chad (25:26)
That’s our season. Covid kind of messed that up a little bit, but we’re just starting to get back to really like, with all the groups and all the different places. The barge right now is on the Ohio River. It’s heading up to Cincinnati. Here’s something cool. So, I had a dive event where that big tornado that came, the F Four that started in Tennessee, went through Kentucky and then ended in Indiana. That was on December 10, where it crossed the Tennessee River. It basically threw a large part of a neighborhood into the lake. We spent three months there, did 1.2 million lbs in the three months, give or take. We got everything above the water that we could, and then we needed to get what was in the water. So we got all these different dive teams from Lake of the Ozarks, Cincinnati, and then locally, but the Cincinnati crew was the police there. And so I worked with the police. I said at the end, I said, “Guys, thank you so much. You came all the way here. If you have anything, let me know.” The police chief, he called the next day. He was like, “Hey, you think you could bring your barge and your excavator up here? We have about 15 cars that our sonars picked up and we don’t have any way to remove them. I said “Absolutely.” So our barges are heading up to Cincinnati. Plus we work with PNG up there, so Proctor and Gamble, so we’ll do a big up with them and then the police and so kind of cool. Still got a great season, and we’ll be going into December of this year, and it’s been a very productive year, certainly for poundage with the tornado work. We didn’t have a break last year, so it’s just, it is what it is.

Dennis (27:15)
Yeah. Well, the time that you’re away, like, you’re not on the barge right now, correct?

Chad (27:20)
Well, not right, not as I speak, but they came here today. Most of the crew’s heading down there as we speak. So they’re actually in a minivan as we speak.

Dennis (27:32)
Gotcha. So you can jump off and on at different locations, but your season is about nine months typically. Is that accurate or does it just vary year to year?

Chad (27:43)
It varies year to year. Yeah, typically.

Dennis (27:47)
Yeah. So I presume at this point in time, with the 25 years under your belt, you and your crew are obviously paid and there’s got to be a lot of expenses that go with that. Is that all taken care of from the corporate sponsorships. Do you get money from the recycling, the stuff that you find, as well.

Chad (28:12)
A lot of people think that we get money from the recycling, but that isn’t even 1% of what it takes for the operation. It’s all individuals and thousands of people help out. And then I have a lot of great companies that sponsor us, and it’s a really good combo. It’s a project of the people. I don’t seek out government funding or anything like that, but we’ll take it if it comes our way, if it’s a good fit. But most time we don’t or anything. So, yeah, it works pretty good.

Dennis (28:49)
Well, I’m going to make sure that Drew, our producer, has got the website up on the video of the podcast throughout. But for those of you who are listening, that website where they could learn more and donate is Livinglandsandwaters.org, right?

Chad (29:09)
Livinglandsandwaters.org. The other project that I’m working on that I’d love people to go to and sign up and is a huge thing for the region, meaning Iowa, Illinois is Bison Bridge. And I’ve been putting years and years into that project. You just have to check out the website. We’re going to be doing some other videos as well coming up.

Dennis (29:35)
Yeah, and I want to talk about that in more detail, but before we get to that because that’s going to be kind of the finale. I want to talk about some of the other projects, though, because we talked a lot about the cleanup type of efforts that you guys have done. At some point, apparently, that wasn’t enough for you because you’ve been off a lot more successfully, of course. But for instance, you’ve had the Million Trees Project since, looks like 2007. So tell us about that.

Chad (30:11)
Yeah, we started planting trees in the islands of the Mississippi River, basically to create more food for wildlife. So these are like the oaks that drop acorns so that deer, turkey, squirrels can eat them and all the other wildlife. So we started doing that. It was really successful. A lot of people heard about it, asked us for trees, if we could help them out. We couldn’t be everywhere at one time. And so we started giving out those trees to be planted. And then we started a nursery in Illinois and then we brought it closer to our headquarters in the Quad Cities and brought it over to Davenport. So, yeah, we’ve been pretty successful with that. We’re like at 1.7 million, little over 1.7 million trees that we either planted or given away. And so we do that. And then we also have kids come to the classroom barge, so we have classes on their, teachers, on staff. And so we kind of think it all kind of fits pretty good together.

Dennis (31:13)
Well, and not to leave the Million Tree Project too quickly because I wanted to ask you also about the invasive… Now, first of all, does that also help with erosion issues around the water areas?

Chad (31:30)
Yeah, totally. Yeah, for sure.

Dennis (31:31)
Yeah. And then the invasive species removal that you do. With that, we’re referring to plants, right, not animals?

Chad (31:40)
Yes. Like honeysuckle, and buckthorn in some areas, or garlic mustard. Different projects for different places that need it.

Dennis (31:52)
Yeah, and that’s what I was going to ask. Do you have someone on your crew or do you have the local agencies or botanists or whoever it may be that says, oh, we really need to get rid of this invasive species?

Chad (32:09)
If you know what it looks like, once you see what, like, honeysuckle looks like, it’s everywhere. I mean, it’s all over. Once you see it, you kind of see it everywhere and you know there’s a need pretty much everywhere you go. It seems like it’s literally in every city.

Dennis (32:26)
Yeah. Is that your crew that does that mostly or do you get the volunteers to help with the removal as well?

Chad (32:32)
And our crew, as well. Yeah.

Dennis (32:35)
Okay. Now you mentioned the educational workshops that you’ve worked into your agenda. And again, the stats on the website indicated over 11,000 students. Now, are those kids? I think I saw something about actually having some teachers also come and do workshops. Is that right, or how does that work?

Chad (32:58)
So my wife helped start the program. We just had teacher workshops for the first, like, I think almost ten years. And then we ended up building a brand new classroom that was more suitable, handicapped accessible, bigger, and kind of more state of the art, I guess, that was on our barge. Because all the teachers really want an opportunity for their students to come. That’s kind of what we did. I think we kicked our first one off on the South Side of Chicago, up in Lamont or Wilmington, Illinois. Somewhere up in that area, and then work down the Illinois River by the time we got it done, and then it goes all over with us. We do our educational workshops with their cleanups. It’s good stuff.

Dennis (33:48)
Got it. So the workshops, are those like a few hours a day or multi day or how does that work?

Chad (33:54)
Just one day, typically for high school students. I’m working on another classroom as well that we’re building too, that’s going to be in places for longer periods of time. So, yeah, that’s kind of a new one I haven’t really got into too much. But I just lifted a building yesterday. I lifted one building off of one barge and put it onto a better barge. That was pretty cool.

Dennis (34:22)
Wow, that is cool. So the other project, before we get to the Bison Bridge. I think we’ve all seen these adopt-a-mile where groups can clean up a mile of roadway, but you’ve got the adopt-a-water mile project or campaign implemented. So how does that work? Does a group approach you or you assign it? Or how do you maintain that?

Chad (34:51)
People call about adopt-a-mile. They know about the program. They might hear on this podcast and say, hey, I want to adopt-a-mile near me, so we just go and we pick out one. And they kind of sometimes have an idea where they want to be, and so we kind of help them identify a lot of times, and they just keep it clean. And I figured if a road should be kept clean, then definitely a river should be kept clean too. It’s a pretty simple idea, and it’s really worked really well. I think we have some all the way past New Orleans, all the way up into Minnesota. So it’s pretty successful.

Dennis (35:30)
Very cool. Okay, so let’s talk more about the Bison Bridge, which is, at least to me, the most recent project that I’ve been aware of. I know you’ve been working on it for years or thinking about it. First, explain to everyone what this is about, what it is that you’re envisioning.

Chad (35:51)
So the Bison Bridge, well, it’s not just about bison or animals. It’s about the Mississippi River, and it’s also about people. And so the bison are a huge part of it, but only kind of half of it. Essentially, the Illinois Department of Transportation, Iowa Department of Transportation are going to replace the Interstate 80 bridge. There are 42,000 cars that are going over the bridge each day and crossing the Mississippi River. So it’s connecting Illinois to Iowa, basically around Rapid City, Illinois, to LeClaire, Iowa. And so in doing that, they’re scheduled to either blow the bridge up or demolish the bridge. I’ve always had this idea to have a small herd of bison on the Illinois side in particular, just because people weren’t stopping. We have a rest area there, but it’s the least utilized in the entire state. But it’s also the best place to stop for a great view of the Mississippi River. And to me, the Mississippi River is a treasure. So I thought if you had a small herd of bison and could have wildlife viewing, people would stop. And I got the idea from going up into Interstate 70, up into the mountains when I was a kid. We’d always stop at this little wildlife area where tons of people stopped. They can’t even get a parking space, no matter what the weather is, what day it is. And so I thought, if they stopped there, why wouldn’t they stop here? So that was my idea, where it originated. Then I heard they were going to demolish the bridge. That’s how this transformed. So it’s essentially making the longest wildlife crossing in the world using the eastbound lane. I’m sorry, the westbound lane for a herd of bison, not to live on the bridge that have grazing in each side, but when the conditions are right, they’d be able to graze over to Iowa and graze back over to Illinois. And then the eastbound lane would be dedicated to connecting the bike paths that already exist here and making a 20.6 mile loop around the Quad Cities. But to me, it’s really bigger than just the Quad Cities. This is your first impression of Illinois, or your last impression of Illinois, or your first impression of Iowa, or your last impression. And it’s about the region, because I want people to stop. I want people to appreciate the river, but I also want people to have something that puts the Quad Cities on the map. Because, honestly, if you live in Chicago and you’re under 30 years old and you ask somebody, hey, do you know where the Quad Cities is? Most people have nine out of ten have never heard of it, let alone could pinpoint it on a map. It’s a Rust Belt city. We’re competing with all the other Rust Belt cities. And essentially, who’s leaving here is a lot of younger talent. And to have something iconic here kind of would keep us on the map, keep people talking about it. And so I always put it in those contexts that the truth is we need it. And here’s the kicker. Bison Bridge does a lot for the people, quality of life around this area certainly, gives people a place to stop. But what it also does is it saves the taxpayers about $30 million. So if they’ve got to demolish the new bridge, and they would have to put a new bike lane on the bridge, so essentially another lane. Between the two our engineers estimate around $30 million it’s going to cost. So we would lose $30 million, we’d pay as taxpayers to lose a great, one-of-a-kind attraction in the world. I think it’s a really good thing. I’ve been working on it behind the scenes for a very long time. I kicked it off, and we have lots of people signed up. And if you go to Bisonbridge.org, you can check it out.

Dennis (39:48)
Yup, I signed up. Became one of the herd. I loved how you had that phrase there. It’s such a cool idea. And I was going to ask you about the engineering aspect. So you have retained engineers to already look into the cost issue, is that right?

Chad (40:09)
We have lots of different yeah, all sorts of… So the person that was the engineer for the state, that was in charge of the bridge when they were doing it, he retired, and I hired him two weeks later. He’s worked with me about two years now on the project. And then we have several other firms that have helped us. How much dirt can you put on it? How is the structure? So behind the scenes, there’s been so much. I just presented from a 30,000 foot view, but diving into the details, to see if this is feasible, and we’ve worked really well with both states and everybody on trying to make it a success. But, yeah, we’re just trying to make it happen.

Dennis (40:51)
Yeah. Well, I love the idea. I would imagine that for some people, the question is, okay, well, what’s this going to cost? You mentioned what it’s going to save, as far as demolition and the fact that you don’t have to add the bike lane on the new bridge, but there’s obviously going to be maintenance. And like you said, there might be some engineering issues that they have to look at in order to see how much earth and grass and what not they could put on there. So there will be an ongoing maintenance issue, I’m sure. Any idea as to what that cost is anticipated to be over time.

Chad (41:35)
So we’re still looking. We don’t know exactly what will be on that, whether we’re going to build a building on the bridge. Original concept had it on there. We’re looking at a lot of different, we don’t have exact of what it’s going to take, but a comparable bridge is in Louisville, Kentucky, where it’s, like, literally they took this old train bridge, nothing had been done to it, 75 years. They turned it into the centerpiece of the community. I don’t have the specific how much it would take, how much it is to maintain that. This is like the most ornate thing you’ve ever seen, and it has big spirals, but it’s not a ton of money whatsoever. And I want to get back to the money. Like, I’m not looking for taxpayer money to do this. I want this to be a project of the people. I went out, I vetted this behind the scenes before even kick this off. I made a lot of great relationships with a lot of people and all walks of life, and this thing definitely has legs. So I would not only build the thing, but I would also have in that maintenance or the money to maintain it for at least 20 years. And ideally, it potentially could be a national park. And that’s kind of what I’m going to. There’s a great example of a private partnership, private public partnership with the St. Louis Arch and the Gateway Arch Foundation. They revamped the whole grounds, did all the work, paid for it privately, but it is run as a national park. So, again, this thing is about putting the Quad Cities back on the map.

Dennis (43:17)
I think that’s a beautiful idea, and I’m sure people who might have been skeptical before will be less so if they look into this further and find that you’re looking for private sources to pay for it, and it’s not going to dig into their pockets. And even if it did, I for one, would still feel it be worth it to have that kind of resource and that kind of attraction in the area.

Chad (43:45)
I appreciate it, but if people don’t. I totally understand, and that’s not the intention whatsoever. I want to do it privately. So if people aren’t, not everybody wants their money spent on it, but I appreciate that you would, but I think from the meetings I’ve had, things will be just fine when it comes to the money and making it happen and maintaining it.

Dennis (44:09)
And that’s at Bisonbridge.org, is that right? So, yeah, if you want to be part of the herd, as well, and sign up and show your support, that’s where you go for that. So what are the next steps for Living Lands and Water, for Chad Pregracke? Is retirement ever on the horizon or are you going to do this until you die?

Chad (44:30)
No, I don’t really think of retirement much. I love what I do, and I guess when it’s time, it’s time, but no. Pretty set with what I do. And as far as Living Lands, Water’s next steps is we’re building another classroom and doing that. So that’s kind of the next project. But do more of the same. Just do them better, I think is what it is, and continue to produce a lot of results. And there’s just a real need for it, so keep doing it.

Dennis (45:07)
And when you are gone from this earth a long time from now, but what is it that you want to be most remembered for? What are the things or the thing that you’re most proud of?

Chad (45:18)
It certainly isn’t what drives me, but I mean, planting all those trees, I think is a really cool legacy project. I certainly think Bison Bridge and if it becomes a national park, which we are working towards, I think that would be a great thing to leave. And a cleaner river and the movement that keeps it clean is cool. And again, I work really hard to just use the time that I have and make good things happen. It’s kind of what I’m trying to do.

Dennis (45:54)
Before I let you go. We always like to play a silly little game with our guests. Would you rather. We’ll keep it clean. Sometimes we don’t. And I think I know the answers that you might give to most of these, but I want to find out. So would you rather never get tired or never have to go to the bathroom?

Chad (46:17)
I guess never get tired, I don’t know.

Dennis (46:24)
Would you rather be reincarnated as a sea creature or as an airborne creature?

Chad (46:30)
I’d be fine with either, but probably airborne.

Dennis (46:34)
Yeah, you know, I would too. But I wondered, working on the river, if that would make you a little curious. Would you rather have your entire lifetime of experiences converted into a movie that you can watch whenever you want to remember them? Or have it turned into a book that people could read and interpret it however they wanted?

Chad (46:57)
Either or, I read a lot, so I guess a book would be fine, but movies are cool too.

Dennis (47:04)
Alright, last one. Would you rather spend your day doing hard manual labor or sit in front of a computer screen?

Chad (47:14)
I would take the labor.

Dennis (47:15)
That’s what I figured you’d say. I feel like we’ve only scratched the surface, but I know you’ve got a busy schedule and I want to be considerate of that. I want to thank you for being here and hopefully we can revisit that Bison Bridge project a little bit later and talk more about that. So in the meantime, thank you so much Chad, for being here. Everyone listening, I want to make sure you check out Livinglandsandwaters.org and Bisonbridge.org. Lend your support financially or just sign on to the bridge project and be sure to learn more about what Chad is doing and his team, what they’ve been doing and what you might be able to do to help. I want to thank you all for joining us again today. Be sure again to subscribe and rate and review Uncommon Convos on your favorite podcast platform and visit uncommonconvos.com to watch the video version of this and every other episode. Also be sure to check out our other podcast, Legal Squeaks to get the latest information on legal and consumer news that might impact your life. Thanks again to our sponsor, VanDerGinst Law. If you need help with an injury claim anywhere in the country, reach out to Vlaw.com. Check us out again for another Uncommon Convos next time. In the meantime, have a great day, stay safe and love you all.

Chad (48:48)
Thanks a lot!

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